Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Reimer: Tony Romo dangerously close to devolving into a caricature after just one year in booth

Alex Reimer
January 22, 2018 - 1:52 pm

Tony Romo started his first season in the broadcast booth by offering a keen level of analysis that was missing from his chair during Phil Simms’ reign of gibberish. Unfortunately, Romo ended it by making noises during replays and cheerleading players to an extent that would make Tommy Heinsohn blush. 

On the whole, Romo’s rookie year on CBS’ lead NFL team alongside Jim Nantz was a smashing success. Even when he’s at his most irritating, such as during Sunday’s AFC championship, he still gives viewers insight that elevates their understanding of the game –– which should be every color analyst’s goal. On a few occasions Sunday, Romo successfully diagramed where Tom Brady and Blake Bortles were going to throw the ball before it was even snapped. Nobody else does that. 

But it’s apparent Romo changed over the course of the season. He was showered with praise immediately, with critics lauding his preparedness and enthusiasm. CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus publicly commented on the positive reaction, too, saying it “pleasantly surprised” him. It’s easy to see McManus, or any executive, reading those reviews and telling Romo to ratchet up his presentation even more. Then, voilà, you get Romo moaning and groaning through the AFC championship. 

At the end of one replay review, in which Romo said no real words about whether Danny Amendola had actually caught the ball, Nantz decided to just provide his own analysis.

“It’s a catch,” he declared.

It seems like Romo managed to scream “HERE WE GO!” before at least one play during every drive Sunday. But he overlooked perhaps the most consequential play of the game. When Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack stripped the football from Dion Lewis early in the fourth quarter, Romo did not mention the seemingly premature whistle. 

Romo was responsible for a couple of uncharacteristic gaffes during the playoffs as well. During Patriots-Titans, for example, he inaccurately pointed out nobody else wanted Bill Belichick when the Patriots hired him as their head coach. At the time, of course, Belichick was coach of the Jets. 

Romo’s most laughable postseason moment came in the Wild Card round, when he said the Jaguars’ 10-3 win over the Bills was an “unbelievable game.” The most cunning analysis from that broadcast came from Boomer Esiason, who tore into Blake Bortles at halftime.

"Guys, I've got to tell you, it's hard to watch,” Esiason said. “Blake Bortles has just been awful. ...He is missing guys, missing screen passes, it is brutal.”

Color commentators are supposed to exude charisma. They’re entertainers, just like everybody else on network and cable television. But Romo was never dry in the booth. He always enjoyed a jovial rapport with Nantz and kept the mood light. As the year progressed, Romo increased his energy to obnoxious levels. At times, he appeared to short circuit. 

Playing a caricature can be lucrative. John Madden’s smorgasbord of catchphrases fueled a video game franchise that’s worth more than $4 billion. Jon Gruden, who never saw a quarterback he didn’t drool over, just signed a $100 million coaching contract with the Raiders.

But Madden and Gruden spent years in the booth before becoming almost solely reliant on schtick. Cris Collinsworth and Troy Aikman have avoided it entirely. 

Romo is at a crossroads in his broadcasting career. Hopefully his run of excellence can last longer than the Cowboys’ four abbreviated playoff trips under his stewardship. 

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